Huntsman: be alert, not alarmed


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SALT LAKE CITY -- Be alert, use common sense and stay home if you're sick. That advice comes out of the governor's health briefing on the swine flu.

Don't panic and use common sense

At the briefing, Gov. Jon Huntsman confirmed the swine flu is in Utah. He said, "We will have some confirmed cases in the days ahead, and the numbers will likely go upward, that we know," he said. "But above all, let's recognize it as for what it is, and that is being a relatively mild strain of flu. Let us use common sense, let us take necessary precautions that almost everyone is familiar with now and get on with life."

He also told Utahns what they need to do with that information. Huntsman said, "We want Utahns to be alert, but we do not want people to be alarmed. We want people to use common sense, and we do not want hysteria to prevail."

Probable cases of swine flu

The State Health Department says all five have reported flu-like symptoms: fever, muscle aches and respiratory infection. Their tests have been sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

All of the cases are minor and none have been hospitalized.

The Summit County School District superintendent says the three students have been home bound and isolated for several days.

The district said one student traveled to Mexico for spring break and that the other two don't know where they contracted it.

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Dr. David Sundwall, executive director of the Utah Department of Health, said, "These cases are probable right now, confirmation is the word we'll probably be releasing tomorrow, but I hope you'll bear with us being a little uncertain given that necessary last step."

Three of the "probable" cases are in Summit County, one is in Salt Lake County and one is in Weber County.

This afternoon, the Weber-Morgan health district announced it had a probable case of swine flu.

"We have a probable case of swine flu and are waiting to receive test confirmation from the Centers of Disease Control," says Weber-Morgan Health Director Gary House. "We are following the policy of the Utah Department of Health of not releasing information about probable cases but will do so upon confirmation."

Sundwall says there are reasons to pay attention. He said, "They call it a novel virus. That's what makes us concerned is because none of us have any immunity to it."

Sundwall also touched on the World Health Organization raising the pandemic level to 5. He said, "That sounds dramatic, but in fact what that means is that there is person-to-person transmission of this virus documented in two or more countries. So that puts them on, it makes us on the alert that this may, in fact, evolve into a pandemic. We wouldn't expect Utah to be spared."

Is Utah prepared for swine flu?

While the flu is expect to be in Utah, Huntsman said the state is prepared. He said, "We have been through preparation for the bird flu two years ago. We convened an inner-agency effort on the part of the state. We are at the top of our game in terms of dealing with any issues or contingencies that might arise."

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said the county's goal is to be proactive, not reactive. He said, "We understand that there's anxiety that comes from the uncertainty of public health concerns, but we also emphasize that people need to remain calm and take appropriate steps.

"Policies and procedures are in place to coordinate the most effective response, and we're meeting on a daily basis now and we're talking on a regular basis and most people are getting updates."

Getting on with life

Huntsman said everyone should be alert and get on with life. How do you do that?

When it comes to sending your kids to school, the State Health Department and the State Office of Education want to assure parents they are working closely to ensure the safety of all students and will close schools when and only if deemed necessary.

The Utah State Office of Education has posted an influenza information page which contains information about any school closures. So far, among public schools, only the Park City School District has issued a closure order.

What about travel? The CDC advised Americans earlier this week to avoid all unnecessary travel to Mexico.

At this point, that is the only recommendation when it comes to travel.

Of course, it's vitally important that you wash you hands frequently and cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough.

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Story compiled with contributions from Courtney Orton and Marc Giauque.

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